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Biotechnology and the transformation of vaccine innovation: The case of the hepatitis B vaccines 1968-2000

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Early online date13 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


The approval, from 1986, of a series of recombinant hepatitis B vaccines was a landmark both in the growth of biotechnology and in the development of the vaccine innovation system. In this paper, we show how the early development of the hepatitis B vaccines was shaped by a political and economic context that newly favoured commercialisation of academic research, including the appropriation and management of intellectual property; we elucidate the contingent interests and motivations that led new biotechnology companies and established pharmaceutical businesses to invest in developing recombinant vaccines specifically against hepatitis B; and we show how these and other factors combined to make those vaccines an unexpected commercial success. Broadening the scope of our analysis to include not just North America and Europe but also low- and middle-income countries, we show how the development of the hepatitis B vaccines facilitated the emergence of a two-tier innovation system structured by tensions between the demands for commercial profitability on the one hand, and the expectation of public health benefit for low- and middle-income countries on the other.

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